Dear Car Talk:
I have a 2002 Buick LeSabre that needs a new rack and pinion. Now, I found some that are pretty cheap, but they say they don't have "Magnasteer." I was wondering what this is, and if I need it or not. Some rack and pinions claim to have Magnasteer, and others don't. Is this something that can be repurposed from the old rack? -- David
Magnasteer was an early version of variably assisted power steering. So, when you're driving slow -- like when you're maneuvering this QE2 into a parking space -- you get the maximum assist from the power steering. And when you're cruising on the highway and are more interested in just keeping the car pointed straight, you get a lot less power-steering assist. Lots of cars now do this via electric power-steering units.
I believe all the 2002 LeSabres came with Magnasteer. And as you've probably discovered, the Magnasteer rack costs close to $500. So, with labor, that's a $700-$800 job.
Can you replace your steering rack with a non-Magnasteer rack? Yes, and the non-Magnasteer rack is quite a bit cheaper. But unfortunately, in order to make the non-Magnasteer rack work, you have to replace both the inner and outer tie-rod ends. And by the time you do that, the price of the whole job ends up being about the same.
So you might as well bite the bullet and buy the Magnasteer rack if you plan to keep the car, David. One other option is to find out what it would cost to rebuild your current rack. It's probably leaking, and you can have it rebuilt and have the seals replaced. I don't know if that'll save you any money, but you might as well ask around and find out.
Whatever you decide, good luck, and happy steering, David.